How to Climb Rocks on a Mountain Bike

Riding your mountain bike over technical terrain with crevices and logs can be challenging even for the most experienced riders. However, getting it to climb rocks can be even harder.

If you’re a mountain rider who has been struggling to climb rocks on a mountain bike, then you’ve come to the right place. This article takes you through some of the important tips on how to climb rocks on a mountain bike while also introducing you to the ideal settings for a rock climb.

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It’s essential to know that you need to do some homework before you start nailing down your strategy for the climb. What kind of terrain are you going to ride your bike on? What are the weather conditions? What are your bike’s settings? Read on as we take you through every consideration in detail.

Your Bike’s Setup

Keep Your Seat Low When Going Downhill

Whenever you’re riding your bike on the streets, you’d want the seat to be as high as possible without locking your knees or rocking your hips. That said, whenever you’re traveling downhill with your mountain bike, you’d want the seat to be as low as possible.

That’s because since you’re going to stand when the bike is traveling downhill, a lower seat will allow you to shift your weight easily to maintain balance.

Moreover, if you ever need to come to a sudden stop, a low seat won’t bump right into you and save you from injury, too.

Raise the Seat When Going Uphill

If you know you’re going to be climbing uphill with your mountain bike for a long time, for instance, to a viewpoint, then that also means that you’re going to stay seated until you reach your destination.

So before you start your journey, get off your bike and raise your seat so that you can avoid excess pressure on your knee joint and save yourself from injury.

Moreover, when you’ve reached the peak you’ve wanted to and know that it’s time to go downhill again, take a moment to lower the seat. If you have a quick-release skewer, this will be a lot easier to do.

P.S: A road bike can seat above handlebars, while a mountain bike can have a comparatively lower seat.

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The Tires

Every terrain you ride your mountain bike on will require a different set of tires. So before you set out to ride your bike on a specific terrain, study your tire options.

Go through online forums and read what the experts have to say. You can ask a local bike shop, and they may give you some knowledgeable opinions as well.

Moreover, instead of keeping your tires pumped up to the maximum like you’d want them to be while cycling on a pavement, you’d want to do the opposite in this case.

That’s because the lower your tire pressure is, the more traction you’ll have while climbing rocks. Keep the rear tire at 40 psi and the front tire at 35 psi.

Ride your bike at this tire pressure, and then drop five psi if you feel it gives you a better grip. Ideally, you’d want your tire to be at the lowest possible psi without you getting an entirely flat tire.

The lighter your body weight is, the lower pressure you’ll be able to get away with. In this case, trial and error work.

Familiarize Yourself with Your Pedals

Your pedals must give you a secure connection between the bike and your feet. In many cases, riders can crash their bikes because their feet slip off the paddle, making them lose their balance.

So before you start trusting your pedals for a challenging ride, look at them closely and make sure you’re trusting the side that has more grip pins. We would also recommend getting clipless pedals as well.

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The Forks

If you’re able to adjust the sag of your fork, try keeping the sag low. If you have a fork set that’s too soft, it’s going to plummet too quickly when you brake, which will exaggerate your weight transfer.

As a result, your bike will throw your body towards the front, which will possibly cause a nasty crash. For a normal ride, the fork should only compress to 15% to 25% of its full capacity when you sit on it.

Your Position While Going Uphill

To know how to climb rocks on a mountain bike, you must truly master the art of positioning. When climbing rocks, you’ll have to keep your butt planted on the seat and lean your torso forward while keeping your back and elbows bent backward.

If you stand up while climbing uphill, your bike’s rear tire may not get ideal traction, which is why it’s not recommended.

When you stay seated, you keep weight on the rear tire, and since you’re leaning forward while keeping your elbows tucked in, you’re simultaneously ensuring the front wheel doesn’t lift either. But remember: don’t glue yourself to this position!

As you move along the trail, the conditions will change, and they’re going to demand a different body position, making you distribute your weight appropriately.

In some cases, you may also have to get off your seat while climbing.

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Choosing the Gear

In most cases, to ensure they make their climbs efficiently, most riders will opt for light gear to keep a high cadence (pedal strokes per minute). While this strategy is great for those long and tough climbs, a technical climb can demand a different approach.

When you’re lifting your bike’s front wheel over an obstacle, you’re going to need a slightly higher gear to get over the obstacle in half a stroke.

The timing of the pedal stroke is imperative because your bike’s cranks need to be on the same level as the obstacle. Before you set foot on a certain ride, practice lifting your bike’s front and rear wheel over an object and try experimenting with different gears while doing this.

Keeping momentum will help you get up to the rock as well. A fast walking speed is a good pace for momentum and control.

Lifting Your Bike’s Front Wheel Over a Rock

The half-stroke lift method mentioned above is a great way to climb over rocks since it lifts your bike’s front wheel and propels you forward. It also cranks up your bike’s rear wheel while helping you maintain balance.

To get started, roll forwards slowly while keeping your pedals level and stand above your saddle. Now pull your handlebars towards your chest and pedal half a stroke.

You can practice this approach by marking a line on a concrete pavement. Once you think you’ve mastered the approach with a line, place a small object and keep increasing the object’s size to truly master the art of climbing obstacles with your mountain bike.

Once you’ve mastered taking your front wheel over an obstacle, it’s time to learn how to lift your rear wheel over an object.

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Lifting Your Bike’s Rear Wheel Over a Rock

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When riding your mountain bike over smaller obstacles, the bike’s rear-wheel should follow the front wheel without a lot of effort.

However, it can be a good practice to unweight the rear wheel over smaller obstacles so that you can lift it over bigger obstacles when you need to.

Once you’ve lifted your bike’s front wheel, your body’s weight will be slightly on the rear wheel. Once the bike’s front wheel is on the obstacle, shift your body’s weight towards the front wheel and let the rear wheel slide forward.

For a bigger obstacle, lift your bike’s rear-wheel higher by pushing on the handles and scooping up the pedals as you jump forward.

Practice combining these two approaches with a few practice runs, and then try doing the same with a few small rocks. While it may take time to master this approach, you will eventually get there.

Jumping with Your Mountain Bike

Once you know how to get your bike’s front and rear wheel over obstacles, it’s time to start learning how to jump forward with this movement strategy. Yet again, you’re going to start small and slowly work your way up to the bigger leagues.

Use the half-pedal approach, but this time, when your wheel touches the object, spring forward by using the power in your legs and then push your handlebars down and forward.

Pushing your handlebars down saves you from taking a nasty fall. Lift the rear wheel upwards as this is a crucial part of the jumping motion, too. With this approach, timing is everything.

Put all of your focus on placing your wheels exactly where you want them to be. The rear wheel will follow the front wheel if you’ve mastered balancing your bike.

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Keep Your Pedals Level Over All Obstacles

Timing the half-pedal stroke perfectly can take come practice. More importantly, it’s also important to keep your pedals level once you’re done climbing an obstacle. Build a habit of riding your bike with your pedals level when you aren’t pedaling.

Begin and end your pedal strokes at the same points. This will help you build muscle memory and make this your default position.

You can practice this on a log since it will be a lot more forgiving rather than a rock. However, if you plan to progress on to objects higher than your bike’s chainring, we would highly recommend getting a bash guard.

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Avoid Braking (Too Much)

Knowing when to brake and when not to brake comes down to experience, but we’ll try to take the mystery out of it and explain it objectively.

Remember that whenever you’re pressing the brakes, you need to prepare yourself for the weight transfer by shifting your butt back (since it will move forward because of the brakes).

Moreover, you also need to make sure that you’re done braking before you make a turn because you can’t ask your tires to turn and to stop at the same time.

Here are a few more tips.

Knowing Which Brake Controls the Rear and the Front

A mountain bike typically has a left lever as the frontal brake and a right lever as the rear brake. That said, this can differ depending on the manufacturer of your bike. The brakes can also have a different layout if you’ve bought a used bike.

Knowing the right layout is essential since you wouldn’t want to use the wrong brake since you’ve little room for error on rough terrain.

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Your Front Brake is Your Primary Brake

If you’re trying to slow your bike down by just a bit, it won’t matter which brake you’re using. However, if you need a lot of stopping power, your front brake will be your best friend.

As long as you’re standing and your body’s weight is shifted backward, you’re not going to fly up over your bike just because you used the front brake.

A mountain bike’s rear bike has little stopping power and can skid much easier than the front bike. That said, this doesn’t mean that you should neglect the rear bike altogether. You can use both brakes simultaneously for maximum stopping power, too.

How to Climb Rocks on a Mountain Bike
How to Climb Rocks on a Mountain Bike

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To Recap

Look ahead as far as you can and have a clear sight of the destination you’re trying to reach. Try to get used to the idea that the faster you’re going, the safer you’ll be.

Practice the appropriate body positions for going uphill and downhill, and always remember to adjust your seat before your ride. While it may take time to get used to constantly standing and keeping your pedals level, you must learn to do these things the right way.

If you’ve found a challenging trail, go on that trail repeatedly. As you pick up speed over time, you’ll get a confidence boost since you’ll know what to expect and what not to expect. Before you know it, you’ll know how to climb rocks on a mountain bike like a pro.